Having followed various meetings on the field of disarmament at the UN in Geneva during the spring 2013, I was surprised by the amount of times that the youth and especially the need for fresh views at the UN were mentioned. The issue actually came up in more informal occasions but still within the official discussions of for example the Meeting of National Directors on Mine Action and a seminar on Military Spending organized by the International Peace Bureau. And even if I call the speakers vaguely by ”one speaker” or ”someone”, these people were influential personalities within Geneva disarmament context, which makes it even more impressive: These people take a moment from their super busy schedule to promote the inclusion of youth!
The point of the statements was not to simply point out the lack of young people in the meeting rooms but to affirm that the UN, and especially the disarmament processes within it, desperately need the next generation to take over as fast as possible. A former politician, a long international career behind her, gave a very passionate and spontaneous speech about how the next generation, uninhibited and free from resentment, would come to better decisions faster than the oldies come to bad ones. This I found extremely encouraging coming from a representative of the older generation.
One speaker, that I know to be very youth-friendly, found it deeply disturbing that Geneva hosts thousands of students, and still, the audience consisted of the same 40 faces as in all the other seminars on the topic. Someone replied that the youth only seems to be interested in education, employment matters and environmental issues. These statements I took heavily and as a personal failure. I felt like I had failed to deliver. I was ashamed for all the youth of the world.
As UN youth actives in different fora, we have went on and on about the inclusion of the youth, the willingness of the youth to participate, the unique views and competence the youth can offer, and so forth. So where is this youth when asked for? Unfortunately, I find it rather legitimate to claim that the youth is only interested in education, employment and environment. We are needed in other discussions too!
It is easy to hide behind the excuse of not being allowed on the UN premises. Honestly, it is not hard to get the access. And at least in Geneva, many “UN” seminars are held outside of Palais des Nations. Geographical obstacles obviously exist but they are not invincible. It is really just a question of arranging one’s life to a bearable distance from the relevant meeting places, i.e. a question of commitment. Alternatively, other options to contribute than physical presence do exist. We would definitely get through if we had the guts to truly use all the participation channels we could think of. At the era of IT, most of these channels are free, fast and easy to use.
However, I would suggest a practical problem that I have personally come to accept as invincible: it is hard to be an experienced expert if you haven’t even finished high school. We will never see (or maybe very exceptionally) a 16 year-old Head of Delegation or a 24 year-old UN Secretary-General. And we will never see younger people working for the UN as long as the life expectancies and the retirement age keep crawling up out of anyone’s reach. The period of life called “the youth” should prolong itself in relation to the increase of life expectancy. Or not?
And we, as the youth, need to stop underestimating the capabilities of the preceding generation, and instead, respect the huge efforts they have made in the difficult circumstances of the Cold War, World Wars etc, such as founding the UN.
– As a matter of curiosity, see the age distribution of UN staff.
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